Tastes Great, Crashes Less

A recent IDC survey asked a relatively small group of current Windows NT users what their plans were for moving to Windows 2000, both Professional and server versions. The survey looked at a best case scenario by singling out current Windows NT users for study, and was conducted a couple weeks after the Feb. 17 launch. The survey told us a number of interesting things, most of them not a huge surprise.

The main Windows 2000 attraction for this group of users was not Active Directory, not IntelliMirror, and not the lower administration complexity that group policies facilitate. It was Windows 2000's improved reliability over Windows NT and Windows 9x products. Microsoft seems to have hit the nail on the head by delivering an operating system that, in its first formal release, looks to be far more reliable than the product that it replaces -- despite the six service packs that helped patch problems in Windows NT 4.0.

Competitors, of course, are having fun with this fact at Microsoft’s expense. At one conference I attended, a presenter gleefully described Windows 2000 as a product whose main selling point was that it crashes less often. While there’s far more to Windows 2000 than that one dimension, the comment brought a roaring response from the audience. The sorry truth is that this is one of the most appreciated aspects of Windows 2000.

A few other interesting trends surfaced through this study. We found that 22 percent of survey subjects already had begun to deploy Windows 2000 Professional, and that 54 percent of those surveyed have plans to deploy Windows 2000. Indications are that most of these organizations will begin their Windows 2000 desktop deployment within 12 months.

Starting deployment, however, doesn’t necessarily equate to a full conversion. Over half of the companies that plan to move to Windows 2000 Professional say that under half of their client systems that will be upgraded within six months after starting their roll-out.

What gives Windows 2000 Professional prospects for a hugely successful future is that the product is shaping up to be the preferred replacement of Windows 9x systems for business users. With many professional users sick of crashing systems, losing data and files during critical operations, and at times corrupting system files, it won’t take much to convince them to move to a better product -- assuming the added cost is not a stumbling block. Consider Novell’s approach, where it is recommending to its customers that they upgrade their desktop systems to Windows 2000 Professional as soon as is practical.

Over the next several years, it is likely that business deployment growth of the Windows 9x family will not just be contained, but will be reversed by Windows 2000 Professional.

Windows 2000 Server deployment plans are much more conservative. Despite the belief that one of the best features in the server versions of Windows 2000 is improved reliability, deployment will likely stretch out for years to come. Of the organizations that plan to move to a server version of Windows 2000, over half of the organizations surveyed do plan to begin server deployment within the next 12 months. About one-third of the respondents don’t have any specific plans in place to move to Windows 2000 Server.

The top three reasons for delaying Windows 2000 Server deployment included waiting for the first service pack, followed by cost concerns and Active Directory/DNS planning issues.

User plans aside, Microsoft is in the process of cranking up its public relations engine for the Windows 2000 machine. In the first 60 days after launch, the company made two announcements of shipment levels -- first 1 million, then 1.5 million units, which accounts for retail channels alone. Taking a closer look at the numbers seems to suggest that the shipments in the first 30 days were double that of the second 30 days. This is not an unreasonable transition, given the huge number of time-bombed beta copies in circulation, and in many cases, in daily use.

Microsoft’s philosophy has always been to focus on the largest segment of the industry, to go in with a good-enough product that will serve the needs of 85 percent of the market, and leave the smallest part of the market, the part with the unusual or most demanding requirements, to the competition. The downside of the good-enough approach leaves customers with a buyer-beware mentality. History says these migration from one version of Windows to another take time. Windows 2000 won’t be an exception. --Al Gillen is research manager for system software at International Data Corp. (www.idc.com) and former editor-in-chief of ENT. Contact him at agillen@idc.com.